Before becoming the first full time employee of Paradigm Surgical, Jonathan Sanchez was a Penn Engineering undergrad searching for a side project to explore his interest in CAD. Six years later, Jonathan is the Lead Product Design Engineer for the five year old medical device startup. In our interview below, Jonathan walks us through how he went from a mechanical engineering student to designing a new medical device that will improve abdominal surgery for hernias.
In the fall semester of my Junior year (2014) I received an email that there was a surgeon in Penn Medicine named Dr. John Fischer who was looking for help creating 3D CAD (computer-aided design) models and, eventually, prototyping and developing a new surgical device.
I honestly didn’t even expect a reply, but to my surprise within just an hour Dr. Fischer reached out. In the matter of just a week, I went from an engineering student stressing about problem sets and hypothetical projects to being directly involved in a real-world project.
For the first few months, I worked on creating 3D designs and renderings of Dr. Fischer’s ideas, sending them for feedback and then iteratively making changes. Around this time, Dr. Fischer, with the help of the Penn Center for Innovation, founded Paradigm Surgical, LLC under which all his device development work would be done.
To be honest, probably for the first 8 months or so of working with Paradigm, I did not believe that anything would actually come of it for me. I saw it as a really cool project to work on for a few months, and then I would eventually move on to senior year and apply for other jobs.
Boy, was I wrong! Here I am, nearly 6 years later working full-time for this now well-established company that has been able to make such astounding progress since our inception.
When did you realize you wanted to continue to work in health tech?
Once Dr. Fischer officially founded the Company and I began seeing my renderings and designs being used in provisional patent drawings, I began to think that there might be more here than I initially expected. The work I was doing truly served a greater purpose; I was actively and productively contributing to a project that truly had real-world impact potential.
By the time we reached the summer between my junior and senior years, Dr. Fischer and I decided to take the next big step and apply for Penn I-Corps. Getting into this program was one of the first big milestones for Paradigm and it helped us iron out our value proposition, customer segments, and more importantly, our customer needs – all of which are critical components to developing a successful product and company.
I am so very grateful for the opportunity that Dr. Fischer gave me nearly 6 years ago, and that I took a leap of faith and stayed with Paradigm post-graduation. Overall, the journey has been a challenging, but extremely rewarding learning experience. It helped me become a more well-rounded and multi-faceted engineer.
Throughout these years, Dr. Fischer has shown an unyielding commitment to advance not only the company and our technology, but also to help facilitate my own professional advancement by allowing me to grow as an engineer and as a young professional.
Jonathan and Dr. Fischer
What was the hardest part of making the pivot from engineering to working at a health tech startup?
Like many others, I started at Penn thinking I could handle whatever challenges they threw at me. I quickly realized I needed to leverage the resources and people around me to thrive. It is the same for the startup world. You will need guidance and assistance along the way, and it is okay to ask for help.
One of the challenges that I continue to deal with is that many of our partners and collaborators have been in the medical device industry for much longer than I have. I sometimes find myself trailing behind on topics, such as reimbursement mechanisms or the 510(k) clearance process. I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn these things quickly and through these experiences, I’ve learned patience and to ask questions.
This feeling of having to learn information and skills on the fly is very familiar to young entrepreneurs involved in a new startup company. I’ve learned to take initiative, anticipate unfamiliar challenges, and accept that it will simply take time to get to the point where I feel as comfortable as those who have been doing it for years.
What advice would you give to a current Penn Engineering graduate who might be interested in entrepreneurship or med tech?
I would say that opportunities to work in entrepreneurship and/or med tech abound, you just have to talk to the right people. There are tons of people from doctors and nurses to contractors and chefs who have ideas for innovative technologies, but are hesitant to take the next step, because they simply don’t have the right partners to help get their ideas off the ground.
It will likely be a challenging and rocky road, so you’ll need to be relentless and resilient as you pursue your entrepreneurial goals. The start-up world can be extremely tough and there will be plenty of moments where it seems like things just won’t work out for you. You’ll have to power through those moments and be creative about finding different ways to get things done.
Jonathan and Dr. Fischer
Finally, my biggest piece of advice would be to surround yourself with people who have different strengths. As much as we want to believe that we can do it all on our own, there will be plenty of times where help will be needed and it is crucial to have a team around you where everyone can contribute their unique knowledge and strengths to make the team stronger as a whole. There is no way that Paradigm would have gotten to where we are now without adding key collaborators and building the right team along the way.
Jonathan Sanchez was born and raised in the South Bronx of New York City. He is a graduate of Penn Engineering. To contact Jonathan about his work with Paradigm, email firstname.lastname@example.org .